Exposing Promoting Hatred

Sacha Baron Cohen was on The Tonight Show last week, promoting his new film Brüno, in which he plays a "flamboyant" gay reporter with the ostensible objective of exposing homophobia. But just like every other promotional appearance for the film, SBC arrived in character and made Brüno's sexuality and gender expression the continuous punchline throughout the interview. The only homophobia being exposed that I could see was SBC's.

In addition to the overt and pervasive homophobia, the misogyny, and the rape apologia I've already discussed in association with this film's promotional materials, there appears to be a hefty dose of racism, too: The segment includes an extended clip (staring at 7:13) of a scene featured in the film's trailers, in which Brüno appears on a Jerry Springer-like show in front of a largely black audience, and brings with him a black baby (wearing a shirt reading "Gayby") who he introduces as his adopted African son. He tells the audience he "swapped" an iPod for the baby.

Naturally, the audience members react with outrage (as any decent person would), because they don't realize it's all bullshit. (And gee, isn't it just hilarious for we viewers "in the know" to watch a white person piquing a predominantly black audience with a total fabrication about an African parent trading away an African child for material goods? Haw haw—the painful history of slavery is such a comedy goldmine!) But because the professed premise of the movie is exposing homophobia, we're evidently meant to tsk-tsk at the aggrieved audience's homophobia—as if there is not another legitimate reason for their indignation—and it's all too easy to do because of the pernicious narratives, real and imagined, about the incidence of homophobia among black Americans.

Those narratives exist because of institutional homophobia. That Sacha Baron Cohen relies on them for his dubious humor is not exposing homophobia; it's exploiting it.

[Previously on Brüno: One, Two, Three, Four.]

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